By: Jeff Cater
Ether One is a rather strange title, in both premise and execution. Developed by White Paper Games, Ether One casts the player as an employee of the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Your current mission entails the restoration of a mind seized by dementia. In order to make the correct reparations of the mind, the player must recreate sights, sounds and rid the brain of impurities using only their own wits.
Exploring the mind of your patient should be easy for most people, using the left stick to navigate and the right to look around. Unfortunately, there was no toggle in the options menu to invert camera movement, so my personal mental battle also bled into the game a bit. After a little adjustment it became comfortable, but it definitely helped that there are no enemies shooting at you or hungry monsters to contend with.
Interacting with the environment is done with “X,” and crouching is done with Circle. You may also raise or lower your lamp with L1 and L2. The speed at which you move and how slow the camera pans can get pretty irritating as it gives the game a much more sluggish representation than I believe it intended. Pressing triangle will transport you back to your headquarters instantly so you can go explore other places or store items that might be of use later.
Ether One doesn’t feature a world chock full of polys and 4k textures, but what makes it a great game to look at is the art direction and how well it represents the subject matter. You’re inside the mind of someone. Think back to a favored memory of yours and you can tell where your mind fills in the blanks, with fog or a haze layered over the top and that is pretty much how Ether One looks.
The world is very still and quiet which creates a foreboding sense of tension not usually present in games of this genre. I’m also very sure that the folks over at White Paper Games utilized every single color under the sun and probably even invented a few new ones.
As mentioned above the world is very still; you’re its only inhabitant at the moment. Sometimes you might find a radio or record player that will play a clip of music, but since the game takes place in a deteriorating mind they are usually very short and sometimes distorted.
Without really needing to be said, piecing together a fragmented mind is somewhat tricky. As you explore the various locations of memory pockets, you’ll be tempted to pick up, transport back to base, and store just about every item that you come across.
A weathered gamer might pick up a gas mask and stow it, thinking that they might need the item to progress. It is usually something much simpler but also much less apparent that’s needed, however; something that is more practical for the environment rather than the player themselves.
In one early sequence of the game, I literally spent about an hour walking around trying to figure out what object I needed to place correctly, all while being unable to leave the area or even transport back to headquarters (glitch?). Finally, I happened to press “X” while highlighting an object I’d positively seen several of leading up to the puzzle, but this one just happened to be interactive.
The solution to some of the puzzles and progression elements will have you palm-to-forehead more than once — sometimes mind games aren’t as cerebral as you think! Throughout the journey you’ll find yourself flipping switches to a particular pattern, smashing bottles, examining objects in search of information and lighting up areas all in the name of giving the mind a little bit of a jolt to achieve some normalcy.
If you’re ever truly stuck, give your surroundings a bit closer of a look, as notebooks and papers lay in wait with hints and instructions on how to progress.
Ether One is surely a head scratcher for the majority of the ride, backed by a fresh concept of story and gameplay elements. You know when something is on the tip of your tongue, but the harder you think about it the further away it gets… and then suddenly just snaps back into place? That’s exactly how playing Ether One feels.